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MARTIN GROVE'S HOLLYWOOD REPORT -- BEST BETS -- 2/17/15


 
Fifty Shades of Grey - Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan

Fifty Shades of Grey - Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan

 Fifty Shades of Grey - on the set

Fifty Shades of Grey - on the set

Fifty Shades of Grey - Director Sam Taylor-Johnson on set with stars

Fifty Shades of Grey - Director Sam Taylor-Johnson on set with stars

Best bets: It's all over but the shouting for Academy members, whoseballots had to be in by Feb. 17.

But Oscar betting pool voters across the country still have a few days left to wager on whose names will be in the sealed envelopes Feb. 22. How wide open the best picture race is depends on which, if any, Oscar blogger you believe. Both "Boyhood" and "Birdman" have their passionate advocates proclaiming why their favorite will win. But, as screenwriter William Goldman famously wrote about Hollywood, nobody knows anything.

Nonetheless, to help navigate Oscar's choppy waters, here are some thoughts about the best bets in six prime categories and a look at how those nominees have fared to date in other key awards races.

BEST PICTURE: Oscar's eight best picture nominees are: "American Sniper,""Birdman," "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "Selma," "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash."

"Sniper" has six Oscar noms, also including best actor, adapted screenplay, film editing, sound mixing and sound editing. Its film editing nom is important because since 1981every best picture Oscar winner has also had a film editing nom.

It's not helpful that Clint Eastwood isn't a best directing nominee for "Sniper," but that's not as big a handicap now as it once was as the Academy is more open to split votes.

"Argo," for instance, won best picture in 2013 without Ben Affleck being a best directing nominee.Last year also saw a split vote, with "12 Years a Slave" winning best picture and "Gravity's" Alfonso Curaron winning best directing (although Steve McQueen did get a nom for directing "Slave").

While "Sniper" hasn't won any big best picture awards, it's been on target where it matters most – at the boxoffice with a cume through last weekend of $308.2 million. It's the only one of Oscar's eight best picture nominees to score big with moviegoers.

Academy members like films that perform well at the boxoffice. If frontrunners "Birdman" and "Boyhood" cancel each other out in the Academy's preferential voting system, that could trigger a dark horse victory for "Sniper," the lone boxoffice hit on the ballot. However, some Oscar bloggers counter that "Sniper's" conservative politics could miss the mark with typically liberal Academy voters.

"Birdman" has nine Oscar noms, also including actor, supporting actor, supporting actress, directing, original screenplay, cinematography, sound mixing and sound editing. What's missing is that all important film editing nom. But it's helpful to have the broad support from multiple Academy branches that nine noms indicates. "Birdman" and "Budapest" each have nine noms, the most for any films this year.

"Birdman," however, looks like the best bet to win best picture given its important victories throughout the awards season. These include: the Screen Actors Guild's (SAG) best ensemble cast award and the Producers Guild of America's (PGA) award, both of which are considered reliable bellwethers for what the Academy may do.

"Boyhood" has been "Birdman's" biggest competition for months, benefiting from the early enthusiasm that critics groups showed for it. Its six Oscar noms also include: best actor, supporting actress, directing, original screenplay and film editing. It's helpful that "Boyhood" has all three key noms – picture, directing and film editing.

Its big wins include: the Golden Globe for picture-drama, the British Academy's BAFTA for best film, the Broadcast Film Critics Association's (BFCA) best picture award, the Los Angles Film Critics' Association's best picture award andthe New York Film Critics' Circle's best picture award. Its BAFTA win is important because for the past six years BAFTA and Oscar have agreed on the best picture winner.

Overall, "Boyhood" has resonated more with critics, who don't vote for Oscars,while "Birdman" has done best with the Hollywood guilds, many of whose members are also Academy voters.

"Budapest" also has nine Oscar noms, also including: directing, original screenplay, cinematography, film editing, production design, costume design, makeup & hairstyling and original score. Its broad Academy branch support is reflected by its nine noms. It's also helpful that it's in the best picture, directing and film editing races.

"Budapest" won the Golden Globe for best picture – comedy or musical.

"Imitation" has a very healthy eight Oscar noms, also including: actor, supporting actress, directing, adapted screenplay, film editing, production design and original score. Here, too, there's broad branch support and the happy combination of picture, directing and film editing noms.

Although "Imitation" did not emerge victorious in any of the prime awards races, it's Harvey Weinstein's pony in the Oscar sweepstakes and The Weinstein Company co-chairman is known for surprise wins Oscar night. Meanwhile, "Imitation" got some last-minute hope from its best adapted screenplay win last Saturday in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) vote.

"Imitation" likely benefited from "Theory" not being eligible under WGA rules because it wasn't made under the Guild's basic agreement. That was the case last year, by the way, when "Slave" wasn't eligible for a WGA nom, although it did go on to win the best adapted screenplay Oscar.

"Selma" has only two Oscar nominations, the other one being for original song ("Glory"). Winning for best picture and only one other Oscar is an unlikely combination, but it's possible. In 1953, Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" won for just best picture and screenplay. But it also had three other noms -- for directing, film editing and costume design. Once again, having that prime combo of film editing and directing nods is very important.

Itcertainly doesn't help that "Selma" isn't in those key races. Although "Selma" took home the NAACP's best picture Image Award, it did not prevail in any of the Hollywood guilds'best picture votes.

Nonetheless, because in the Academy's preferential voting system all members vote for best picture, it's possible that the overall membership could hand "Selma" a wildly surprising win as a way of repudiating the directors branch for not nominating its director, Ava DuVernay. While that's not a safe bet, it could happen.

"Theory" has five Oscar noms, also including actor, actress, adapted screenplay and original score. It's missing the directing and film editing noms that usually contribute to a best picture win and it hasn't won in any of the Hollywood guilds' best picture votes. The real engine pulling "Theory" through the awards season has been Eddie Redmayne's much celebrated lead actor performance.

"Whiplash" has five Oscar noms, also including: supporting actor, adapted screenplay, film editing and sound mixing. While it has a film editing nom, it's missing a directing nod and it didn't win in any of the Hollywood guilds' best picture votes. Its awards story all season has been J.K. Simmons' critically acclaimed supporting actor performance.

BEST DIRECTING: Oscar's best directing nominees are: Wes Anderson ("Budapest"), Alejandro G. Inarritu ("Birdman"), Richard Linklater ("Boyhood"), Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher") and Morten Tyldum ("Imitation").

Inarritu's Directors Guild of America (DGA) win breathed new life into "Birdman," which had trailed "Boyhood" throughout the early awards season months that are dominated by critics groups.

As the DGA winner, Inarritu is clearly the best bet to win the Oscar. It helps that only seven times during the previous 66 years has the DGA winner not gone on to win the best directing Oscar.

BEST ACTOR: Oscar's best actor nominees are: Benedict Cumberbatch ("Imitation"), Bradley Cooper ("Sniper"), Eddie Redmayne ("Theory"), Michael Keaton ("Birdman") and Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher").

Redmayne is the likely best bet to win best actor for his critically acclaimed portrayal of renown British physicist Stephen Hawking. His wins earlier in the season include: SAG's lead actor award, the best actor-drama Globe and the best actor BAFTA.

Hawking attended the BAFTA's and was shown on camera both on the red carpet and during the awards. Academy members watching the telecast on the BBC America cable channel will have made the important connection that Hawking is very pleased with how Redmayne portrayed him on screen.

If there were to be a Redmayne upset, it would likely be Keaton, who won the Golden Globe for best actor – comedy or musical and the BFCA for best actor and has had a high media profile throughout the season.Given "Birdman's" nine Oscar noms, there could be a strong wave of Academy enthusiasm for the film, in which case Keaton could be swept along to victory.

BEST ACTRESS: Oscar's best actress nominees are: Marion Cotillard ("Two Days, One Night"), Felicity Jones ("Theory"), Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"),  Reese Witherspoon ("Wild") and Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl").

Moore is clearly the best bet to win, having led the field throughout the awards season. Her key wins thus far include: the best actress BAFTA, SAG's lead actress award and the best actress-drama Golden Globe. Moore is one of Oscar's safest bets this time around.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Oscar's supporting actor nominees are: Robert Duvall ("The Judge"), Ethan Hawkes ("Boyhood"), Edward Norton ("Birdman"),Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher")and J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash").

Simmons is clearly the best bet to win after having been way out in front all season. His victories thus far include: the supporting actor BAFTA, SAG's supporting actor award, the BFCA for supporting actor and the supporting actor Golden Globe.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Oscar's supporting actress noms went to: Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood"), Laura Dern ("Wild"), Keira Knightley ("Imitation"), Emma Stone ("Birdman") and Meryl Streep ("Into the Woods").

Arquette is clearly the best bet here, having led the pack all season. Her earlier wins included: the BAFTA supporting actress award, SAG's supporting actress award, the BFCA for supporting actress and the supporting actress Golden Globe.

Bottom line:The other big pre-Oscars story is the ongoing boxoffice heat wave. It reached boiling temps over Presidents Day weekend as Universal and Focus Features' R rated romantic drama "Fifty Shades of Grey" arrived to $94.4 million for four days, the biggest February opening ever.

"Grey" will stimulate ticket sales for weeks to come as will 20th Century Fox and Marv Films' R rated action adventure comedy "Kingsman: The Secret Service,"which opened strongly in second place with $42 million for four days.Meanwhile, Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated 3D animated comedy adventure "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" held up well in its second week, finishing third with $40 million for four days.

Through last weekend, the 2015 boxoffice is up a hefty 11.7 percent over this time last year, according to Rentrak, the boxoffice data firm.

Among this weekend's new arrivals hoping to keep the boxoffice waters hot is Paramount and MGM's R rated comedy "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"at about 2,600 theatres. It's tracking best with under-25 males.

Directed by Steve Pink, director of the 2010 hit "Hot Tub Time Machine," the sequel revolves around Lou (Rob Corddry), who's become known as the father of the Internet. When Lou is shot by an unknown gunman, his friends Jacob (Clark Duke) and Nick (Craig Robinson) realize that using their time machine is the only way to save him.